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Into Canada's wilderness with Globalstar's SPOT Global Phone

Posted by in Product reviews on Sunday, October 6, 2013

Adam Shoalts tested the SPOT Global Phone while on an expedition funded by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. (Photo: Adam Shoalts)

On my solo expedition this summer to explore the Again River my only means of contact with the outside world was a the new SPOT Global Phone, a satellite phone manufactured by Globalstar. While I never found myself in any emergency situation where I required the phone, I tested it out daily in order to write this review.

I was surprised by how small and lightweight the SPOT Global Phone was, weighing only 7.1 oz (201 g) — significantly smaller than older models I have used. This is valuable on an expedition when packing light is essential. The phone was also easy to operate. In fact, I found it even more user-friendly than my ordinary smartphone.

The drawbacks of the phone are that it only works with a clear, unobstructed view of the sky. That means it does not work in the forest, or even under a lone tree, inside a tent or under a tarp. It is also not waterproof and therefore cannot be used in the rain — a major inconvenience on an expedition. Even in good weather with a clear view of the sky, I discovered that the phone would not always work immediately. It typically took several tries for me to pick up a satellite signal as the phone often could not pick up any service even in the open. When I did make a call, it frequently cut out in the middle of a conversation, and I would have to repeat the call several times. However, these drawbacks in my experience hold true with all satellite phones that I have used on expeditions.

The phone comes with only one lithium-ion battery. The battery lasts for four hours of talk time, or 36 hours on standby. That, however, is not adequate when doing an extended wilderness expedition. For people spending more than a few weeks in the wilderness at any given time, a spare battery is a necessity. Another potential drawback of the SPOT Global Phone is that it does not have coverage in the High Arctic, Antarctica and some other remote parts of the planet. Users should therefore consult Globalstar’s map of satellite range before purchasing or renting this product.

The SPOT Global Phone sells for $499.00 plus taxes and air time rates. Options to rent a phone are also available from some retailers, which may be more economical depending on how often you plan to use the phone.

Overall, I’d use the SPOT Global Phone again on another expedition because it is affordable, lightweight and seems to be about as good as any other satellite phone on the market for a comparable price. My only reservations are that it doesn't include a space battery and it isn't waterproof — though that would likely jack up the price. These qualms, however, would be of less concern for casual users looking for a suitable satellite phone for hunting, fishing, boating, or shorter canoe and hiking trips.

  Comments (2)

Why would 4 hours of talk time not be sufficient? Turn it off and on in case of emergency, no?

Submitted by John Pasmore on Thursday, October 10, 2013

As I said above, I was referring to an extended wilderness expedition; its not like using a cell phone, you have to wait until the sat. phone picks up a signal. Even a short call to give one's coordinates can take 10 minutes. If you do that every night, on a four week expedition, that exceeds 4 hours of talk time---and if you were to find yourself in an emergency situation the reality is it would likely require more than a 10 minute phone call. Thus, 4 hours of talk time is not adequate for an extended wilderness expedition. And of course, I didn't say anything about the added demands of doing media interviews from the wilderness or updates for Canadian Geographic! Besides all that, a spare battery is just a logical thing to have in the wilderness...because you never know. Iridium provides spare batteries with their sat. phone rentals.

Submitted by Adam Shoalts on Thursday, October 31, 2013

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